ART Power HK takes Hong Kong’s art industry online

A passenger airliner flying low over a city.

When the pandemic thwarted the city’s annual art month and international art fairs, nine members of the local scene got to work on a virtual space that became integral to the community

By Diamond Sharp   Above image: Cathay Jumbo over Kowloon City, 1994 (Keith Macgregor)    Sunday 23 August, 2020    Short read

ART Power HK, a community-powered virtual arts campaign, has set the blueprint for how art institutions can quickly reshape their model during an unprecedented disruption in audience attendance. With a sleek site and hundreds of innovative events, ART Power HK has set the standard for translating engaging and compelling arts programmes onto a virtual platform. 

‘The whole idea was to support the arts community here, to unite it,’ says Rosanna Herries, Head of Sinclair Arts and a founding member of ART Power HK. After the pandemic disrupted the city’s annual art month, and international and local art fairs earlier this year, she and other people within the cultural industries started asking, ‘What can we do?’ 
 
ART Power HK was conceived from a series of meet-ups between Herries and a group of eight friends in the arts sphere, working across a diverse spectrum of cultural organisations. It first took shape as a four-month campaign to maintain momentum for the arts by bringing the community online until the group could activate physically, aiming for an events programme in May.  

‘March has traditionally been Hong Kong’s art month, because of Art Basel Hong Kong and other related activities. COVID-19 arrived in Hong Kong around the end of January. We were one of the first cities to be hit other than outside of mainland China,’ says S. Alice Mong of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, one of the original nine members. When it was announced that Art Basel and other events would be cancelled, Mong knew the important question was a proactive one. Rather than accept defeat, she asked, ‘How can we move forward?’ 
 
‘The idea of Art Power HK came about from us saying, “We can still organise ourselves as an arts and cultural community”,’ says Mong. Using Soho House Hong Kong as a meeting place, the nine founding members – also including Alexandra Seno of the Asia Art Archive, Catherine Kwai of Kwai Fung Hin, Elaine Kwok of Christie’s, Georgina Hilton of Christie’s, Katie de Tilly of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Kiri Sinclair of Sinclair Arts and Levina Li-Cadman of Art Partners –hatched the initial idea to create an online platform to support the local art community. The website highlights exhibitions, hosts online talks from a consortium of art partners, and works as a collaborative online resource for the country’s arts industry. It’s impressive how quickly the small team effectively saw out their plans.
An abstract painting.
An abstract painting of two people.

Top image: Chris Huen (Courtesy of Simon Lee Gallery); Above image: Claire Tabouret 'My Waves,' 2019 (Courtesy of Phillips)

A body-shaped sculpture.

Movana Chen 'Bod yContainer Travel Maps,' 2012 (Courtesy of Flowers Gallery)

They also quickly thought on their feet to get the funds needed to sustain ART Power HK. Using their huge networks, the group was able to bring in dozens of organisational partners in the first few weeks after they launched. ‘From the beginning, we were realistic about what we wanted to achieve,’ says Hilton. ‘In its simplest form, we wanted to bring people together, which costs nothing. We’ve really focused on that, and within a matter of days we had 50, 60, 70 partners. Within only a couple of weeks, we had more than 100 partners.’

The group has leaned on a crowdfunding model and other monetary gifts to support their work, staying closely aligned to their mission of being community powered. ‘As we gained momentum, we realised what we could do with funding. We decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign through the website. Over the summer, we’ll refocus on that funding campaign to keep momentum going for the rest of the campaign, which is due to continue until June 2021,’ explains Hilton. 
 
Since launching in March, ART Power HK has received nearly 100,000 page views and more than 6,000 people have attended various talks hosted by the site. ‘What was important for us was that even though the international art fairs were cancelled, we still have 55 galleries in Hong Kong [that belong to] the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association,’ says Li-Cadman. ‘We wanted to make sure that it’s business as usual and that the galleries got profiled in their exhibitions or their virtual exhibitions.’ 

The website has also flipped the script on how patrons are engaging with art. The virtual space has allowed for a more holistic engagement with curators, artists, and other cultural workers. ‘I feel that it’s now a more engaging space, rather than just physically seeing artwork in an exhibition,’ says Mong.
 
What started as a local lifeline has attracted art lovers across the globe. Galleries and museums have noticed an uptick in engagement – from both local residents and art lovers around the world. ‘What I found impressive was that 50% of the audience was from Hong Kong. The other 50% was from outside of Hong Kong, and the UK and US were two of the largest audiences. That shows me that what we started as a local Hong Kong initiative really gained traction with a global audience,’ says Mong.
A nighttime landscape with people and lit up coloured balloons.
Animal Farmno (Chou Ching Hui)

‘I think there are always people who have come down to the answer that art and culture is a major part of individual balance and a thriving society'

A painting of a horse and rider riding through a desolate landscape.
Their success has been an inspiration for other art communities to replicate it. Cultural workers everywhere have reached out to say they’re interested in recreating what ART Power HK has accomplished. ‘People are looking at our site and feel like even though we’re sitting at home and not in the gallery, we can still work together,’ explains Mong. ‘They have been enquiring about it and I hope, over time, others will replicate it.’

One of the most popular recent talks on the site was a lecture on the arts’ ability to encourage and heal, and how to continuously bring it into people’s homes during Hong Kong’s ongoing lockdowns. Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, residents are desperate for creative outlets. ‘People are all asking, “What’s next?” How do we continue to engage with the community and the people around us, and how do we stay balanced given all the uncertainties,’ says Herries.
 
As COVID-19 became a global pandemic, with a much larger impact than could ever have been imagined, the campaign adapted to offer a much deeper response and longer commitment. With the same purpose and values upon which it was established, ART Power HK extended its digital platform through to June 2021. For the foreseeable future, virtual offerings will remain an integral part of Hong Kong’s art community. The founding members are hopeful for its future, and with it ART Power HK’s contribution to it. ‘I think there are always people who have come down to the answer that art and culture is a major part of individual balance and a thriving society. What’s next is going to be dependent on how the pandemic rolls out in each of our locations and how everyone responds to that globally,’ says Herries. 

Overall, ART Power HK serves as a leading example for how art communities can quickly band together during a time that has brought many organisations to the brink. ‘We are seeing that we are in a world of change, and flexibility is good, and that we are going to come out of this hopefully better,’ says de Tilly.
Interested in becoming a member?